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On First Anniversary of Snowden Revelations, World Governments Urged to End Mass Surveillance

Thursday 5 June 2014 - 2:13pm

SnowdonOn the anniversary of the first year of the Snowden revelations, there is an urgent need for governments to end mass surveillance and protect whistleblowers, says PEN International.

In light of the exposure of the enormous scope of surveillance practices, today PEN, along with 400 other organisations calls on governments to end mass surveillance and protect whistleblowers. To this end, we call on world governments to adopt the 13 International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance (IPAHRCS), principles aimed at putting an end to the blanket surveillance of innocent persons.

Commenting on the need to end the mass surveillance, John Ralston Saul, President, PEN International said:

"The principles of free expression are simple—maximum transparency in places of power, maximum free expression for citizens. Privacy is a key part of free expression. In private we work out what we will say and do in public. The growing use of secrecy and surveillance by governments and corporations is a direct attack on free expression. The use of fear to justify this secrecy and surveillance is a cynical diversion from the central issue: Free expression."

One year ago today, The Guardian ran the first article of the revelations which began to expose the pervasive nature of mass surveillance by the US and UK Governments of both their own citizens and non-citizens. As part of the exposure of the enormous scope of surveillance, Snowden also alleged that the private communications of human rights organizations which could include PEN International itself were specifically targeted.

If accurate, these allegations constitute an outrageous breach of these governments stated commitment to human rights and freedom online. It also raises the very real possibility that these organizations’ communications with confidential sources have been intercepted. Sharing this information with other governments could put victims and human rights defenders the world over in imminent danger, undermining the ability of organizations like PEN to carry out our essential work defending free expression.

This grave intrusion on privacy is alarming and has far-reaching implications for the fundamental right to freedom of expression. The prosecution of Snowden for espionage entails penalizing an individual who was exercising his right to free expression and information. In September 2013, at the PEN International Congress in Reykjavik, Iceland, 20,000 members approved a resolution calling for  whistleblowers to be  afforded protection by governments.

Please read more about PEN’s work on surveillance and free expression here:

Report on surveillance and self-censorship
Surveillance and freedom of expression
Threats to internet privacy in the UK
Support for Snowden’s asylum application